Eight years ago I had what I describe now as a “rock bottom” experience. Impulsively, in a wave of exasperation with my work, my home life and my weight (I was more than 100 lbs. overweight at the time), I quit my job. As I climbed out of that dark place, I realized that my weight was at the vortex of all the things that were out-of-whack in my life.
At the time I was a 44 year-old, married, full-time working mother of four, and I had been morbidly obese for more than 20 years.
For almost as long as I can remember the scale has dictated my self-worth. If I stepped on the scale and the number was “good” in my estimation, I was happy. If the number was too high, I’d berate myself for failing.
More accurately, for being a failure.
After that rock bottom experience, I decided I’d had enough of the dieting roller coaster that whipped me around on emotional highs and lows. Having tried every diet from mainstream to downright kooky, I knew that I was done with diets that didn’t work for me. And more importantly, I realized that I deserved more than a life in which a number on a scale defined me as either “good” or “bad.”
In June 2007 I had lap-band surgery to help me control my raging hunger and relearn portion sizes. Though I am keenly aware that some people consider weight loss surgery a “cheat,” my lap-band was a strategic tool that offered me a chance to undo a lifetime of bad habits while I set new ones in place. It acted as my “training wheels,” if you will, until I could ride alone.
Over several years I lost 120 lbs. by completely changed my eating habits, but I also redefined myself as a healthy person. I became a marathon runner, a triathlete and a devoted yogi.
Before you start thinking that I’ve evolved into some “perfect” (read: unattainable) specimen of healthy living, know that I still do a little dance up and down the scale within ten pounds of my goal weight. But these days when it’s pushing the upper limits of that margin I go to a new place in my mind, rather than the self-loathing that used to consume me. These seven new habits are a way of honoring and supporting myself while I re-commit to healthy living.
So now, rather than turn into that raving lunatic who lets the number on the scale wreak havoc with her self-esteem, I do this:
- I talk to myself with compassion. That voice in our heads can be savagely cruel. I quiet that voice by talking to myself in the same way I would a beloved sister or friend who was suffering.
- I weigh myself (first thing in the morning, after peeing and exhaling deeply). Part of my recovery has been to refuse to look away from my reality. The number doesn’t define me, but I cannot run from it either.
- I ramp up my self-care. I go for a long walk with my dog Stella in the early morning sunshine. I get a pedicure. Or I indulge in one of my favorite self-care “extras”: a green juice from my favorite organic juice bar. It is healing in a glass.
- I reach out to friends. You know, the ones who “get it.” They’re the ones who’ll listen compassionately, then offer to go to a kickboxing class with you. They’re supportive, not enabling.
- I don’t hunker down and “try harder”; I play. Research shows that play – having non-productive downtime – gives us resilience and fosters creativity, both of which are imperative for success.
- I throw out unhealthy food that somehow snuck into my house when I wasn’t looking. (Ahem, those brownies I made the other night.)
- I keep doing all the things that I know work. I secretly wonder if that voice in our heads is taunting us so that we’ll panic, throw up our hands in a fit of frustration and say, “Forget it! Gimme a double bacon cheeseburger!” I take away her power when I keep working those healthy habits that brought me success. Doing them consistently is what defines a healthy lifestyle, and the scale will respond.
Losing 120 lbs. and having kept it off for more than eight years means that the world sees me as a “success” story. But the truth is I could easily turn back into that crazed woman who hit rock bottom. The reason I haven’t is because I now know that there are no failures, only feedback. Learning from that feedback – and being kind to myself as I do it – means I can bounce back with a renewed commitment to healthy living.